Chad Emerson uncovers some fascinating theme park ticketing history in a chat with Janel Pisorchik, the director of business operations at accesso, a Florida-based company that specializes in electronic ticketing and eCommerce solutions for theme parks.
Related: / The Truth about Theme Park Ticketing / accesso company profile / Dewayne Bevil of the Orlando Sentinel talks about amusement industry reporting / Disney Parks’ Tilt Shift Videos Boost Customer Engagement / Leadership vs management in theme park operations
Chad Emerson: You started your career in the amusement industry as a young intern at Disney. How did that come about?
Janel Pisorchik (below right): I was entering my junior year in college and a friend mentioned the Walt Disney World College Program. My family visited Walt Disney World when I was seven and I always had such fond memories of that trip, so when the internship recruiters visited campus I made sure I was in attendance.
I was fortunate enough to be chosen for the program and began my first role as a “Cast Member” at the Magic Kingdom parking lot. I learned so much about teamwork in those few short months and worked harder than I had ever done before. The work was so very rewarding seeing anxious guests arriving and the smiles on their faces when they were leaving at the end of the day!
Emerson: Over the course of your career at Disney and Magic Kingdom, which has been something of a foundation to your current position with accesso, what were some of the most significant changes that you witnessed in front gate operations?
Pisorchik: Hands down, the biggest change was moving from a manual ticketing process to an automated solution. When I first started with Walt Disney World, I sold pre-printed tickets out of a lock box and the attendance counts at the main entrance were all done by hand. As you can imagine, this process was very labor intensive and it left lots of room for error.
When the automated solution was introduced in the mid ‘90s, the transition was challenging. The Cast Members were a bit reluctant to the change from what had been in place since 1971. Gaining their buy-in was a critical step towards success. Once the newness had passed and the true positives of an automated solution were recognized, everyone looked back and wondered why we had not done it sooner!
Emerson: You oversaw the installation and launch of the ticketing system for Disney’s expansion into Asia with Hong Kong Disneyland. What innovations or unique features did that new system introduce?
Pisorchik: One thing that was very unique to Hong Kong Disneyland was leveraging their ticketing system to sell date-specific tickets. At Walt Disney World, tickets are sold as general admission to be used on any day. Due to the anticipated demand, the ticketing system at Hong Kong Disneyland had to be configured to handle a specific capacity for each day.
This type of configuration created a complexity that I had never dealt with at Walt Disney World. Determining the allotted capacity for each channel was very challenging. There were so many unknowns and until the park opened you had to assume that your educated estimates would be correct. This approach has since changed to general admission much like Walt Disney World.
Emerson: You were with Disney when biometrics – the use of fingerprint scanning and physiological data – became part of the ticketing process to authenticate the identity of pass holders. Tell us about that implementation.
Pisorchik: Disney was the first theme park to introduce Biometrics to the entrance process. The initial type of technology used was hand geometry. This was an effective deterrent to help decrease the number of tickets from being resold. However, from an operational perspective, explaining the enrollment & verification process to the guests entering the parks was a little challenging.
The team was tasked with finding new technology and then focusing on the entrance process. The key components were speed, accuracy and ergonomics of the unit. During one of the many biometrics related projects, I realized I am what is called a “goat.” I have one finger that does not have a clearly defined fingerprint due to a childhood injury. As you can imagine, I was leveraged for a variety of testing purposes.
It’s amazing to see the progress Disney has made in this field, now leveraging Biometrics for all ticketed media coming through the entrances. Walt Disney World is the largest single site Biometric installation in the world.
Emerson: On the flip side, what is an example of a ticketing or front gate strategy that seemed good in concept but didn’t translate as well in execution?
Pisorchik: Prior to transitioning to an automated ticketing system, there was an initiative to require photos on all multi-day paper tickets. The main goal was to decrease the resale of unused days on multi-day tickets. Conceptually this strategy made sense. However, trying to photograph each member of a party that simply wanted get into the park ended up sounding better on paper than in action! Once Disney upgraded to an electronic ticketing, biometrics quickly replaced the challenging photos-on-tickets process.
Emerson: It’s a beautiful sunny afternoon in Central Florida. Describe for us your perfect theme park day.
Pisorchik: I would begin my day at the Magic Kingdom where I would take several trips around the park on board one of their beautiful Steam Trains (my very favorite thing to do). I would then disembark in Frontierland to ride Big Thunder Mountain and then stop by Liberty Square for a visit at the Haunted Mansion. Next I’m off to Disney’s Hollywood Studios for a thrilling ride on the Tower of Terror. I would end my day at Epcot with dinner in Japan at Mitsukoshi and viewing of Illuminations.